The Space Shuttle

or, The Pedalboards of Karl Ward

Usually at least once per show, I get friction from someone about how many effect pedals I use. Most of the time, it’s a little mild ribbing like “Have enough pedals yet?” or “You take up the whole stage, don’t you?” That’s usually the sound guy talking. When I meet other guitarists, I get a different response, best described by Nels Cline talking about his own pedalboard: “a kind of fascination mixed with feelings of skepticism and/or disgust, as though it’s somehow amazing that I can keep track of it all and at the same time I must be some kind of charlatan to NEED so many pedals!” Occasionally, I get compliments too–one guitarist described my sound as a “wall of doom.” At South By Southwest, another guitarist told me “wow, you really play that delay pedal.”

This is a history of my pedalboard, from the very beginning of Ghost Ghost (January 2008) up until now (October 2010). I may revise this history as time goes on, and my effects rig continues to get weirder and more complicated. “It’s a love affair, mainly Jesus and my hotrod.

January 2008: Proto-pedalboard Ghost Ghost formed in January 2008, and that’s when I started designing my first pedalboard. Kevin and I decided that we wanted to use our effects in a musical way right out of the gate, so I starting researching boutique effects and getting my head around what kinds of sounds I wanted to have at my disposal. During this time, I was experimenting with the pedals I already had, which were:

The obvious first goals were distortion and delay, and I knew I needed a lot of options. I also wanted to buy USA-made effects wherever possible. Here’s what made the list:

The GT-500 has an overdrive stage and a distortion stage, and you can pick which one is first. It also has nice EQ for each stage, which is a huge feature. The GT-500 was brand new and not even available at the time, so I had to wait a couple months to get it.

The Stereo Memory Man has something that most delay pedals do not have: presets. I don’t know why pedal manufacturers haven’t figured this out yet. A pedal should have preset capability. This is not rocket science.

March 2008: Stereo Signal Routing The Stereo Memory Man has stereo in/out, and the amp I was using at the time (Sovtek MIG-50) had two inputs. This got me thinking about running a two channel rig. I took apart a small digital tuner and refitted it into a stompbox, and then I wired it for stereo operation.

In sum, I added a stereo TRS input jack, a 3PDT footswitch (tuner+mute or tuner bypass), two TS outputs (left, right), and one TRS output (stereo). So a mono guitar signal coming into the tuner/splitter can be split into two paths. I planned ahead though, assuming that I would eventually rewire my guitars to have stereo guitar output, so a stereo guitar signal coming into the tuner/splitter is also broken out into two mono paths.

Once I had two paths to work with, many possibilities opened up and I did a lot more research. My next round of purchases:

The HOG has preset capability, but in order to use presets you have to have the foot controller. The two devices take up a ton of real estate, but it is provides such otherworldly set of sounds that I find it is worth it.

May 2008: Version 1, and Lightning Demo Right around this time, Ghost Ghost started gearing up for our first live shows. For my first pedalboard enclosure, I selected

It is a decent, light, and relatively low cost option. I knew I would eventually need more space, and a hard case, but it was a good entry point. Having onboard power is nice, but the onboard 9V power is limited to 100 mA per outlet, which is not enough to power the HOG or the Stereo Memory Man, so I still needed to carry a power strip.

I routed the signal into two paths:

  • GT-500 -> Stereo Memory Man -> Sovtek MIG-50
  • HOG -> Tube Zipper -> Sovtek MIG-50

Probably the most interesting thing about the HOG path is that I realized pretty early that the HOG by itself doesn’t sound much like a guitar, because it isn’t a guitar, it’s a synth. I happened to have a Tube Zipper, which is a combination envelope follower with distortion. Putting the Tube Zipper after the HOG makes it sound more like a really nasty distorted guitar instead of a synth. The first time I tried it I thought it sounded like Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement, and that’s just about exactly what I wanted: one path of traditional overdrive and distortion, and one path of disgusting over-the-top nastiness. One of my HOG presets is a mute, so I can mute the entire path. Also, disengaging (not muting) the HOG allows me to mix clean guitar or just Tube Zipper in with the GT-500 path.

This is the pedalboard rig that I used for the recording of Lightning Demo, and in our first live shows (here I am floating one foot above this version of the pedalboard):

September 2008: Time is Gravity I used the version 1 pedalboard during the recording of Time is Gravity in September 2008.

A quick map to the songs:

  • St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”: That’s the HOG doing the D minor chord drone at the beginning and end, using the hold mode without the spectral gate. This is the only song on the record where the Tube Zipper is not engaged. During the song proper, the HOG path is muted.
  • Unreal City”: Both paths are live with everything turned on, so it is maximum distortion. In the ska bits of the song, I turn off the GT-500 distortion, so you hear more of the HOG+Tube Zipper path.
  • Forest Fires”: This song is the GT-500 path up until the second guitar solo, where the HOG path comes in as well.
  • Time is Gravity”: Throughout the song, both paths are active with the Stereo Memory Man in “1 sec + rev” mode.
  • Cadmium Red”: Throughout the song, both paths are active.
Version 2, Manned Flight in Outer Space We have a reputation for playing a lot of shows. After doing that for a little while, I realized I needed a hard case. Right around that time, we saw our friends The Grift and I got to chat with Clint Bierman about gear. He raved about the pedalboard he had, so I selected: With the increase in available space, I started looking to add new effects. Wah and more distortion were added: I modified the GT-500 path, making my paths look like this:
  • Muff -> Crybaby -> GT-500 -> Stereo Memory Man
  • HOG -> Tube Zipper -> Stereo Memory Man
The Muff added a deeper overdrive option than the GT-500 overdrive. Putting the Muff before the Crybaby allowed me to make the wah really nasty if I wanted.

It was right around this time that I started calling my pedalboard “The Space Shuttle.” I’m from Houston, Texas, so NASA has figured pretty large in my imagination.

Version 2.1, First Tour In April 2009 we went out on our first tour. During that tour, I replaced the Crybaby with:

I can’t say enough nice things about the Clyde Deluxe. It has multiple modes and a gain knob. Why don’t more wah pedals have a gain knob? I generally use it in “Jimi” mode.

June 2009, Version 2.2, Of Innocence and Experience The Version 2.1 pedalboard was briefly augmented for the Of Innocence and Experience session. Kevin loaned me a:

I put it first in the signal path, even ahead of the tuner/splitter. I liked it, but decided not to keep it because it requires AC power and I couldn’t fit a fourth wall wart onto my pedalboard power supply.

Version 2.2 pedalboard, June 2009 A map to the songs:

  • Will You Be True?”: The Muff is the only distortion engaged, and during the solo I use the Clyde.
  • Snow Falling on Stairs”: Through most of the song, I am using just the Tube Zipper without the HOG, and the GT-500 overdrive. At the end of each verse, I turn on the GT-500 distortion to sustain the last chord. During the solo, I turn on the Clyde and the Opto-Compulator. During the “kids on fire” part, I turn on the HOG.
  • Hide and Seek”: The ambulance sound in the intro is the wah rocking back and forth, with the Muff engaged. The freak out is basically everything turned on. Throughout the song up until the coda I am using the Stereo Memory Man in “3 sec” mode (I think).
  • Sound and Fury of Sleep”: Up until the drum break, one path is the HOG + Tube Zipper, the other path is GT-500 with overdrive and distortion engaged. After the drum break, I start switching on the Stereo Memory Man selectively in “1 sec + rev” mode. When the guitar gets loud again, that’s the Stereo Memory Man engaged with the Clyde doing the filter sweeps. By the end I’ve disengaged the Stereo Memory Man.
  • Kate”: This is my “Pavement” sound. I’m controlling the volume swells with my guitar’s volume knob. One path is HOG + Tube Zipper and the other is GT-500 with overdrive and distortion. During the quiet bits, I turn on the “1 sec” tape delay mode and create a loop of volume swells. I bring that loop back at the end of the song as well.
Version 2.3 I made some modifications to version 2.1. I replaced the Muff with a more flexible overdrive pedal: The Catalyst I bought was a “factory second,” meaning it has some kind of cosmetic blemish, so I got a great deal. I can’t see any sign of a blemish at all though, it looks perfect. I love Fulltone.

I also put the HOG Foot Controller into a smaller stompbox to make some more room.

My custom tuner/splitter was temporarily damaged in transit, so I used the Furman pedalboard’s onboard splitter (top right in the picture below), and replaced my tuner with a regular tuner:

So here’s version 2.3, which I used until October 2010:

Note the unused space in the top left corner. That was supposed to be where I’d put a reverb pedal, but I ended up switching amps to a Fender ‘65 Twin Reissue, which has onboard spring reverb.

Interlude, No Clothes on Ragged Island During the recording of No Clothes on Ragged Island, I took the pedals out of the pedalboard and combined them in different ways. I didn’t use the HOG or the Tube Zipper at all. I was also recording using small combo amps instead of the Sovtek. My guitar tones on this record sound different for these reasons.

A quick map to the songs:

  • Camden, Maine“: the electric guitar has Catalyst -> Clyde -> GT-500 -> Stereo Memory Man
  • Sent For from Out of Town“: the electric guitar has Catalyst -> Clyde -> GT-500 -> Stereo Memory Man
  • Prize“: that’s Kevin playing a nylon string guitar, no effects
  • Vassar Days“: the electric guitar has Catalyst -> Clyde -> GT-500. The Clyde is in “Wacked” mode, I think.
  • The Poet in New York“: the electric guitar has Catalyst
  • Three Parts“: acoustic guitar only, no effects
  • Bizarre Love Triangle“: the electric guitar has Catalyst -> Clyde -> Muff -> Stereo Memory Man
  • Where the Century Is“: acoustic guitar only, no effects
  • No Clothes on Ragged Island“: the electric guitar has Catalyst -> Clyde -> Muff -> Stereo Memory Man–it sounds more like a synth than a guitar
  • Curse of Apollo“: acoustic guitar only, no effects
Version 3, Acoustic Guitar in Space When we started arranging No Clothes on Ragged Island for live performance, I realized I needed to incorporate acoustic guitar into the pedalboard. To get acoustic sound from my electric guitar, I installed the Ghost pickup system and Ghost Acousti-Phonic preamp into my main Strat, “Betty.” That was Kevin’s idea. Having the Ghost pickup system also meant that I was able to run TRS out of the guitar, with one output for magnetic pickups and the other for the piezo pickups. There is also a “QuickSwitch” on the guitar that allows me to select just magnetic, just acoustic, or both.

Once I had the acoustic capability and true two channel output, I reincorporated my custom tuner/splitter and added:

I also had to remove the Catalyst for space reasons.

Future: More flexibility, less complaining about Velcro

The pedalboard has slowly evolved, getting a little better about every six months. I do plan to add more effects, which at this point means adding something like a Voodoo Lab GCX to keep it all under control. I’ve wanted an Adrenalinn multi-effects box since Mark Christensen told me to get one, but as you can see I’m a little short on space. I’m considering buying a portable rack enclosure for the GCX, maybe with a couple pull-out shelves for some of my pedals. I wonder what The Edge does